The trouble with traveling in a group, especially in a group of thirty students and leaders is that it is virtually impossible to be inconspicuous. Whenever we roll up to a new campsite in our trusty tour bus — the Triple Taeter — it creates a ruckus. It seems that there are always a few curious campers who skeptically watch our bus manoeuvre its way around tight corners and into impossibly small parking spaces. If we haven’t attracted enough attention by then, we certainly do when we when all pile (or fall) out of the bus. This is generally followed by a parade of people running for the nearest water closet (washroom) while the rest of us attempt to unload all of our various camping gear as fast as possible. This already efficient system is made even more efficient (and loud) by competitions to see who can set up their tents the fastest (Kay and I). Oddly enough, even once things have settled down a bit we still seem to attract curious spectators, gawking at our hackeysack games or watching with frowns as we play guitar in the low hanging tree branches. Outside of camp we stick out even more as we walk around in groups, say thank-you in Italian when in Germany and generally just look lost when we are trying to find our way around the metro station.
We came on this trip to ‘see the other’ (as per the theme of our courses) but I often feel as if we are the ‘other’ due to how much we stand out – and I can’t say that I really blame them!
Our clothes and language differ from that of many of the people we encounter, but so do our expectations of ‘the way things should be.’ Traveling in a group has made me especially aware of the importance of being sensitive to the fact that, to the locals here, we are the other. This means respecting simple cultural differences, being flexible, and trying to see beyond the distraction of masses of other pushy tourists.
So are we seeing the other or are we being the other? Some days it is hard to tell, but to quote Walter Thiessen, perhaps the answer lies in “both-and.”
Adapting to another culture requires being able to be a little more fluid by relinquishing control. You can’t fit into the flow of another way of seeing the world if your expectations are rigid with sharp corners. These are the lessons that I have been learning so far, and I can only imagine at what the next three weeks will hold.